On Dreams

“When Dreams are perceived as a reality, the dreamer does not usually require an interpretation of the experience. Nor is an interpretation required when dreams are perceived as unreal, for unreality is usually understood to be meaningless. It is when the perception of the dream falls into the gap between reality and unreality, when the dream is seen as real but of a different – spiritual psychic, simbolic, or magical – reality, that the dreamer feels in need an interpretation.

To fulfill this need, many societies have produced a class of professional dream interpreters who, in conjunction with religious magical or medical theories, attempt of explain the dreams of their patients / clients. The Brahim oneirocritics in India, the om myoshi in Japan, the Hasidic rabbis in Europe, the Egyptian pa-hery-tep, the priest of Greek incubation cults, and the contemporary psychoterapists, have all functioned as dream interpreters within their respective cultural system.” 

David Coxhead, Dreams: Visions of the Night, 1976 and 1989


THE DREAM BOOK : “Papyrus giving a list of dreams and their interpretations papyrus, probably dates to the early reign of Ramesses II (1279-1213 BC), from Deir el-Medina, Egypt
19th Dynasty, around 1275 BC. On each page of the papyrus a vertical column of hieratic signs begins: ‘if a man sees himself in a dream’; each horizontal line describes a dream, followed by the diagnosis ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and then the interpretation. For example, ‘if a man sees himself in a dream looking out of a window, good; it means the hearing of his cry’. Or, ‘if a man sees himself in a dream with his bed catching fire, bad; it means driving away his wife’. The text first lists good dreams, and then bad ones; the word ‘bad’ is written in red, ‘the colour of ill omen'”. [The British Museum]




DE SOMNIORUM INTERPRETATIONE, LIBRI QUINQUE: “Five Books on the Interpretation of Dreams,” 1539, by Artemidorus, philosopher surnamed Ephesius, from Ephesus, on the west coast of Asia Minor, but was also called Daldianus, from his mother’s native city, Daldis in Lycia. He lived in the 2nd century.

According to Artemidorus, the material for his work was gathered during lengthy travels through Greece, Italy and Asia, from diviners of high and low station. Another major source were the writings of Artemidorus’ predecessors, sixteen of whom he cites by name. It is clear he built on a rich written tradition, now otherwise lost. Artemidorus’ method is, at root, analogical. He writes that dream interpretation is “nothing other than the juxtaposition of similarities” (2.25). But like other types of Greek divination, includingastrology, celestial divination and pallomancy, Greek dream divination (Oneiromancy) became exceedingly complex, a given dream subject to a number of interpretations depending on secondary considerations, such as the age, sex and status of the dreamer. At other times, subtle distinctions within the dream itself are significant. In a particularly memorable passage, Artemidorus expounds upon the meaning of dreams involving sex with one’s mother:

“The case of one’s mother is both complex and manifold and admits of many different interpretations—a thing not all dream interpreters have realized. The fact is that the mere act of intercourse by itself is not enough to show what is portended. Rather, the manner of the embraces and the various positions of the bodies indicate different outcomes.” (Trans. Robert J. White)

There follows a lengthy and minute recitation of the divinatory significance of enjoying one’s mother in various sexual positions.

The first three books of the Oneirocritica are dedicated to one Cassius Maximus and were intended to serve as a detailed introduction for both diviners and the general public. Books four and five were written for Artemidorus’ son, also Artemidorus, to give him a leg-up on competitors, and Artemidorus cautions him about making copies.

According to the Suda (Alpha 4025), Artemidorus also penned a Oiônoscopica (Interpretation of Birds) and a Chiroscopica (Palmistry), but neither has survived, and the authorship is discounted. In the Oneirocritica Artemidorus displays a hostile attitude to palmistry.

Among the authors Artemidorus cites are Antiphon (possibly the same as Antiphon the Sophist), Aristander of Telmessus, Demetrius of Phalerum, Alexander of Myndus in Caria, and Artemon of Miletus. The fragments of these authors, from Artemidorus and other sources, were collected by Del Corno in his Graecorum de re onirocritica scriptorum reliquiae (1969).